Why You Should Eat Breakfast and the Best Times for the Rest of the Day’s Meals

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Keeping track of what you’re supposed to eat to stay healthy can already be overwhelming, but it turns out that when you eat what can also be important for keeping your weight in control and for warding off chronic disease.

It turns out Mom was right: you should eat breakfast. And if you don’t believe Mom, a growing body of studies shows that a good meal in the morning can help your body prepare for the day to come, and lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. But what about the rest of the day’s meals? Here’s what nutrition experts say about the best times to eat and why.

Morning
Don’t skip breakfast. Reporting in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, Harvard School of Public Health researchers studied the health outcomes of 26,902 male health professionals ages 45 to 82 over a 16-year period. They discovered that the men who skipped breakfast had a 27% higher risk of heart attack or death from heart disease than those who honored the morning meal. According to the scientists, skipping breakfast may make you hungrier and more likely to eat larger meals, which leads to a surge in blood sugar. Such spikes can pave the way for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, all risk factors that can snowball into a heart attack.

Pass on the pastry. Eating in the morning — and what you eat — is important for setting your blood-sugar pattern for the rest of the day. “If you eat something that is whole grain and has some fat and protein to it, your blood sugar is going to rise slowly and go down slowly. If you eat something refined, like an overly sweet cinnamon roll, that’s the worst thing you can eat,” says Judy Caplan, a registered dietitian nutritionist for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “You get an insulin [spike], and [then] your blood sugar drops too low so you get hungry again. That’s why people get into a cycle of overeating junk.”

To ease your body into a more consistent blood-sugar pattern, try some oatmeal, whole-wheat toast with almond butter, or an omelette with spinach and avocado. Caplan’s favorite breakfast is a baked sweet potato with a little bit of cinnamon and a small bit of butter. Who says you have to eat just cereal in the morning?

(MORE: Eat This Now: Okra)

Afternoon
Fuel up at the right time. In the 1960s, nutritionist Adelle Davis popularized the mantra “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” Why? Fueling up makes sense earlier in the day, when your body needs the most calories for energy. That’s why in many European countries, the largest meal of the day occurs in the afternoon. “Ideally, you want to give yourself fuel before you do harder labor,” says Caplan.

If you’re used to eating a smaller meal for lunch and a larger meal later, you can still fill up with a hearty meal that has significantly fewer calories. “A fairly large meal [that] is full of salad and vegetables [is] big in volume but light in calories,” says Caplan.

Evening
Don’t overdo it. Calories get burned up no matter when you eat them, so theoretically it’s O.K. to eat after dark. But if you eat a heavy dinner, you’re not as likely to get rid of those calories before you turn in. “What you don’t burn off is more likely to be stored as fat, as you become less active toward the end of the day,” says Tracy Lockwood, a registered dietitian at F-Factor Nutrition. “Eating too close to bedtime increases your blood sugar and insulin, which causes you to have a hard time falling asleep. Therefore, your last meal should be the lightest of the day and should be eaten at least three hours before you go to sleep.”

(MORE: Can’t Resist the Twinkie? A Guide to Working Off Its Calories)

There’s another reason that late-night eating, after dinner, isn’t a good idea. In most cases, those visits to the fridge involve sweet treats such as ice cream and other desserts that can send blood sugar soaring right before bed. That can lower levels of the hormone melatonin, which is supposed to help you feel tired and relaxed, so waning levels can make it harder to fall asleep. “A boost of energy coming from your dinner, which may have consisted of pasta, rice or bread, can act as a short-lived stimulant, causing you to feel more awake immediately after a meal,” says Lockwood. “Also, it is not recommended to lie down immediately after a meal, especially a big one, since it increases your chance for acid reflux.”

Keep it light. “If you go to Europe and places where there is not as much obesity as the rest of the world, people eat very late and they’re not necessarily overweight. That’s because they are walking everywhere and they are typically not eating a huge and heavy meal,” says Caplan. “Instead, it may be avocado and toast with a side of soup.”

(MORE: We May Not Care About Calorie Counts, but the Food Industry Does)

There’s clearly no formula for healthy eating that applies to everyone for maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding illness, but paying attention to both what and when you eat might be a good place to start.

38 comments
aninates
aninates

I think the most important thing is to adopt healthy eating habits and consistent when it comes to eating healthy. The ideal is for my breakfast with fruit, whole grains, vegetable protein and some fat that can come from seeds such as chia seeds or flax seeds. Carbohydrates should be complex carbohydrates that break down more slowly and to have energy for longer while we prevent insulin spikes forming.

http://dietaproteica.biz

JonBell
JonBell

Why they make it seem like you should be eating a small dinner because as you sleep your body ain't gon burn that many calories and if they not burned before you wake up it will turn to fat!!! Lol ! You should have a nice high protein dinner because your muscles need the protein for muscle growth. the carbs is more for the brain

Birdymain
Birdymain

I was reading the part about a sweet snack before bed was bad for you.  I disagree.  For me eating a snack before bed actually makes me sleepier then awake.  When we were kids my brothers and my doctor actually recommended having a bowl of ice cream before bed because we had such trouble sleeping. It worked..  



AlexandraMarie
AlexandraMarie

This article gives the impression that we have to eat three meals a day, at designated times. The reason so many people are overweight is because they eat when they are not hungry, and do not listen to their bodies. I agree that it's good to kick-start your body in the morning, even if it's just a warm cup of tea or an apple. But after that, forget about breakfast, lunch, dinner, what time you should stop eating at, when you should or shouldn't have a meal. When you're hungry, eat. If you're not hungry, don't eat. If we listened to our bodies more and the clock less, we would slim up a lot faster. Some people need 6 small meals a day. Some people are OK to run on two big meals. Some people don't get hungry until 11am. Some people wake up starving. Listen to your body, not some article that tells you when to eat!! Also, I live in Europe and there are overweight people here too. . . . 

MentxuDaVinci
MentxuDaVinci

In my opinion this is a good article.  Breakfast should be healthier: my favorite breakfast is fruit, or spelt bread toast with avocado, grated ginge, and olive oil. Skipping meals could alter our metabolism, as a protective measure:  our metabolism acts Slowing Down and accumulating for a possible time of scarcity: Even  we disregard our body acts intelligently.

http://armoniacorporal.es/

musketeer
musketeer

This is fun! One more study which pretends to have uncovered something profound, and TIME repeating the conventional wisdom that "mom was right". This is fun until we collide with the facts: most of us do eat breakfast (just look around) and yet, our obesity rate is the highest in the world. I fault TIME, a magazine I admire, for its lack of critical thinking on this subject.

The study is deeply flawed. Just consider the following factors:

1. A complete lack of benchmarking. Benchmarking is the simple process of finding out who is the best in a certain field, defining how they do it, and adapting the findings to our own situation. So which is the healthiest nation on earth? Most sources say it is the French, who live more years without serious health issues than any other nation. Do they eat breakfast? Having lived there for many years, I know that, by and large, they don't. Oh sure, they sometimes gobble up the odd small croissant, but most adults just have café au lait in the morning. The French eat 2 meals a day, lunch being the largest, and they don't snack. Kids going to school eat breakfast, and usually have a small snack around 4:30 pm when they get out of school. Yes, I know that their habits are slowly changing, but for now the French obesity rate is 15%.

2. The study sample does not support the conclusions. The youngest participants were 45 years old; by then, their blood sugar metabolism is probably set for life. If they have insulin resistance at the start of the study, the effect of eating or not eating breakfast can probably not be determined.

3. The assumption that "skipping breakfast may make you hungrier" is unsupported. Notice the "may". We all adjust to a certain food intake over time; eating a large breakfast "may" prompt you to eat more for the rest of the day.

4. The study relies on what the subjects say, without validation. If I only eat an orange, or just one small pancake, I may well answer that I am not eating breakfast.

For what it's worth, I only eat a small amount of fruit in the morning, ever since I read Fit for Life decades ago. I have basically adopted the French way of eating: large slow lunch around 1 pm, lighter dinner around 7 or 8, no snacks, not too many high-glycemic index foods (bread, potatoes, pasta, sugary drinks) but lots of seasonal veggies and legumes. My recent check-up says I am in perfect health, and I feel great.

Trap12
Trap12

Come on, try harder.  Think.  There has to be a whole cornucopia of BORING STUFF you can add to eat.

BigBrucy
BigBrucy

You can have the healthiest breakfast and exercise habits but at the end of the day if you're still eating like a typical fat american slob, you will look like a typical fat american slob. You need to raise the base metabolism by eating the right foods to lose weight. For the fat idiots who are tired of looking like rick ross, go here. http://bigbrucesreviews.com/metabolic-cooking/

Patagonian
Patagonian

PATAGONIAN : Here in almost all countries of South America, maté (or mate), from the plant Ilex paraguayensis' leaf is heavily consumed as an infusion as the only breakfast for many poor people. And also along the day, between different meals, according to the country. I've recently read in Pub Med that mate contains a carcinogenic component, benzo(a)pyrene, or BaP. This was published on Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, 2011 ; 12(4), 1089-93 -free full text-, from a research on 13.201 individuals in Montevideo, Uruguay (major public hospitals). It was also showed carcinogenic for SEVERAL organs, as the article describes. Since mate is widely spread herein from long ago, would like to know if you'd have or can find more information about, because could be very important to alert the people, such as with tobacco use. THANKS, KEEP WELL. 

artvet2
artvet2

Portion control, folks, portion control!  The Key.

rohit57
rohit57

" Therefore, your last meal should be the lightest of the day and should be eaten at least three hours before you go to sleep.”

That may explain why in India, some religions advocate not eating after sunset. 

Of course this method might not work quite so well in Norwar.  But it works in India since the length of the day does not vary quite so much.

21stcentury
21stcentury

re: "those who honored the morning meal"       

Just "honor" what works for your own body at your stage of life. 

buffalo.barnes102
buffalo.barnes102

I have basically always adhered to the basic outline of this article. What confuses me is the article that always comes along 2 months later  that always begins "Researchers have found..." and goes on to refute these findings and rolls out a whole new regimen "based on newly discovered..." blah, blah.

BillJamesJr
BillJamesJr

A lot of this information is nothing new, but I still like the article. Reminders are good because many times I know that I forget things and can easily fall back into bad habits. What I've found to be the hardest is building new habits. i already have a lot of nutritional knowledge, thanks to articles like this, but there is a big difference between knowing and doing. It all comes down to making sure I retrain myself and build new, good habits to replace the old ones.

jmswedlund
jmswedlund

The logical breaks in this piece are making me wince. So a meal that takes up a lot of room on your plate, even if low in calories, will literally full up your stomach and make you feel full? Having a literally full stomach has nothing to do with satiation. If this was the case, then dieters could just drink water and fill their stomach to ward off hunger pangs. Also, the suggested meals are so varied in carb, fat, and protein that the quiet might as well just said "don't eat highly processed food for breakfast." And if we're going to over generalize and talk about "Europeans," they tend to eat higher fat diets, and drink more wine, not necessarily just avocados.

hahn8
hahn8

I skip dinner entirely and eat "lunch" at 2:00 in the afternoon, 6 hours after breakfast.  I eat a big breakfast that generally resembles most people's dinners.  I eat a lunch at 2:00 with very little meat or carbs.  It takes a few days to get adjusted, but then it's super easy.  You don't feel hungry at all at dinner as long as you avoid spiking your blood sugar with processed carbs and sugar like the article says.  3 meals a day is a societal construct, not a biological rule.  In fact, our dinners go against our natural cycles.  No daytime animal other than humans are able to eat past sunset.  

I lost 25 lbs in 2 months (17.8%--->12.4% body fat).  The first 12 lbs were lost in the first two weeks.  The reason is that by skipping dinner, my insulin levels fall to baseline levels when I go to sleep.  Without the insulin, your body breaks down fat at night to maintain your blood glucose levels.  

WonderMike
WonderMike

"the Best Times for ... the Day’s Meals"

breakfast should be in the morning, lunch in the afternoon and dinner in the evening? wow, if it weren't for this article i would never have know that!

Killbot5K
Killbot5K

Keep it simple. Eat when you need to. Include fruits and veggies. Avoid the junk. Work out a few times a week, or when you're bored. Don't think about it so much.

It took millions of years for us to evolve. Before obesity was a common thing, early humans weren't timing meals and counting calories.

RandyPlett
RandyPlett

Surprise...another dietician parroting the high carb healthy "whole grain" nonsense as the best thing to eat for breakfast.  I've got a challenge for Caplan.  Why doesn't she measure her blood sugar 20 minutes after eating any of the following nonsense recommendations she outlines in this paragraph "try some oatmeal, whole wheat toast with almond butter, or an omelet with spinach and avocado. Caplan’s favorite breakfast is a baked sweet potato with a little bit of cinnamon and a small bit of butter." 

I guarantee you will see a blood sugar spike after eating each one of these meals except for one of them - omelet with spinach and avocado.  Let's see oatmeal, like whole wheat toast and sweet potato (all carbs) which translate into a large glucose spike regardless of them being classified as "complex", which encourages a large insulin response which encourages the body to store body fat and triggers the hunger response soon after again.  This advice is wrong on so many levels.  There is no protein and very little fat to be found with any of these meal suggestions...The two macronutrients that keep blood sugar Steady Eddy, keeps insulin in check which allows the body to use fat storage for energy.  Just a large does of "complex" carbs that still translates into blood sugar spikes, insulin spikes, body fat storage, followed by a hunger spike which leads to wanting more carbs which translates into blood sugar spikes, etc, etc.  Wash, rinse, repeat. 



DarrylM
DarrylM

Both relationships (skipping breakfast and midnight snacking), however, fell shy of statistical significance after further adjustment for body mass index, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes, "suggesting that eating habits may affect risk of coronary heart disease through pathways associated with these traditional risk factors," they reported online in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

rohit57
rohit57

I should have said Norway and not Norwar. 

The interesting thing is that in India women tend to be more religious than men, and observe this custom (do not eat after sunset) more regularly.  This may explain, in part, the higher life expectancy of women.

jmswedlund
jmswedlund

Autocorrect fail: somehow, "writer" turned into "quiet."

mahadragon
mahadragon

@hahn8 Eating 2 meals per day is ridiculous. There's nothing natural about skipping dinner entirely. It's true, animals don't eat past sunset, but that doesn't mean animals don't eat dinner. If you go outside around 6 o'clock or so you always see deer, birds, or other animals feeding just before sunset.

The only people who eat 2 meals/day that I know of are the monks in Thailand who eat breakfast, a small lunch, and that's it. They also abstain from sex, do prayers for hours on end, and dedicate their entire lives to a spiritual cause. 

hahn8
hahn8

Oh, and my breakfast is usually low in carbs - one piece of multi grain bread at most, and LOTS of fat.  Avocado, coconut oil stir-fried veggies, mozarella, and full cream in my coffee.  It's amazing how long you can go without feeling hungry if you eat like this.  Don't be afraid of eating (unprocessed) fat!

hahn8
hahn8

@RandyPlett I agree, but to be fair, I don't think Caplan is recommending a high carb diet.  Just that if you do eat it, eat it in complex, unprocessed forms.  Slowing down the rate of absorption makes a difference.  In that same vein, eating whole fresh fruit is far better than juicing it and drinking it.  In juice form, you are taking in too much sugar that's super easy to absorb because you generally lose a lot of fiber.

DylanVaughan-Williams
DylanVaughan-Williams

@RandyPlett I completely agree, breakfast should be in my opinion the fattiest meal of the day as fat slows down digestion with a large serving of protein, such as chicken, turkey or eggs with some vegetables. this meal should keep hunger in check for the rest of the day and provide the body with any necessary nutrition. I also agree with your point about the high carb diet myth being spread and to a large degree leading to the current obesity problem.

RandyPlett
RandyPlett

@jmswedlund Bingo. Spot on...particularly with this line "Also, the suggested meals are so varied in carb, fat, and protein that the quiet might as well just said 'don't eat highly processed food for breakfast.'"  Yes, her breakfast meals were all over the place with macronutrient ratios with a couple of them just consisting of "carbs", no protein, no fat.  Eat like that consistently and you're putting yourself on a disastrous metabolic path that will have negative health consequences.

BrianLund
BrianLund

@mahadragon @hahn8 It's really not that ridiculous. I've been eating the same way for most of my adult life. Two full meals a day is all a person needs, if they stay well hydrated and eat healthy. It works for me, and I feel great doing it. 

hahn8
hahn8

@mahadragon @hahn8 Have you tried it?  How do you know it's ridiculous then?  I've been doing it for nearly 5 months now, and I don't feel the slightest bit deprived.  I sleep better, I have more energy during the day, I'm more focused, and all my skin issues have cleared up (no more seborrheic dermatitis).  I'm not that strict about it.  As a general rule, I don't eat dinner, but if I feel like eating something around 6 pm, I'll have some mozarella or an avocado.  But now that it's a habit, I never feel like I *need* to.  

RandyPlett
RandyPlett

@hahn8 @RandyPlett Her recommendations are disastrous.  Eat a sweet potato with nothing else?  No protein? Very little fat?  That "meal" will raise your blood sugar immediately.  You're under the impression that as long as it is a "complex carb" then it won't raise your blood sugar drastically, won't raise your insulin response as a result, won't lock up your fat stores so you can't use it as energy, won't instigate the hunger response a couple of hours later when your body is looking for more carbs.  Eating a bunch of whole fresh fruit by itself would not be recommended either.  Yes, fiber definitely slows down absorption but not as much as you think.  You're far better off eating protein and good fat meals with little carbohydrate period.

mahadragon
mahadragon

@DylanVaughan-Williams @RandyPlett Try loading up on super fatty meals in the morning and see how far it takes you (cottage cheese, cheese, milk, butter, eggs, pizza, etc). I can tell you, every time I load up on a fatty meal it slows me down. Fat tends to do that. A large meal will also tend to do that. How motivated do you feel after eating a really large meal? You don't. You just want to sit there and digest it.

IMO the fatty meal should come in the evening when you are getting ready to shut it down. The largest meal should come in afternoon or evening when you are when you are closer to shutting it down than ramping it up. 

hahn8
hahn8

@RandyPlett @hahn8 As you can see from my other post on this topic, you and I are pretty much in agreement.  However, asking someone who is used to getting the majority of their food from carbs to eat zero carbs is difficult if not impossible.  Thus, I think it's a bit impractical.  Eating less is a good first step, and eating it in complex forms also helps.  I am in no way suggesting that eating complex forms means you can continue eating as much as one previously did.  I agree that the total carb amount still matters.  However, I think that it is prudent to maintain some semblance of balance regarding carbohydrates.  Are they necessary?  No. Can they be eaten in some amount without harming one's health?  I think yes.  

My father, who was a 20 year insulin-dependent diabetic with hypertension and high cholesterol, is now eating my current diet as well.  He is now completely off all his medications with completely normal numbers.  It wasn't easy getting him to cut his carbs - we are Asian and he is a complete rice addict - but we took it in baby steps rather than going cold turkey.  First we switched to brown rice, then we cut the amount, and substituted the decreased rice with increased vegetables.  It worked, but it took time.  

I still maintain that eating *some* carbs in the morning may even be beneficial IF one is highly active throughout the day.  High physical activity requires glucose.  The body can get glucose from two sources: glycogen breakdown in the liver, and fat breakdown everywhere else.  Glycogen is far more efficient and thus, can easily be utilized as a source while one is awake.  Fat breakdown, OTOH occurs at night to replenish depletion of glycogen stores during the day.  However, under high physical activity, glycogen stores in the liver can be depleted quickly.  When you are out of glycogen, the body then has to turn to anaerobic means of supplying energy because fat breakdown does not occur rapidly enough to provide it.  One of the end results of the anaerobic pathway is lactic acid, which as most people know, results in muscle cramps.  This is the whole reason behind "carbo loading" for marathoners.  

If you're talking about weight loss purposes, then yes, you should eliminate carbs wherever and whenever possible, regardless if they're complex, or unprocessed.  But if your weight is at a good place and you aren't diabetic, I don't think any and all carbs at any time, should be lumped together as "bad for you".  Please note, that I am still a proponent of low/minimal carbs.  

RandyPlett
RandyPlett

@hahn8 @RandyPlett  As a follow up thought.  People get to caught up in the "complex carb" thing thinking it has fiber, it will slow down absorption of glucose, etc so it's ok.  No, no, no...it's not ok.  What carbohydrates due hormonally to the body is vastly different than what protein and fat does.  Even when that carb is a complex carbohydrate.  The whole name of the game is controlling blood sugar and insulin.  The less insulin your body needs to produce, the better.  Insulin run amok is the major source behind nearly every disease from diabetes (obvious) to cancer (not as obvious).  Control your blood sugar and insulin, control your health.  And when you eat mostly all protein and fat, your blood sugar and insulin stay extremely consistent, your encourage energy to be used partially from the protein and fat source you just ate and partially from the fat stores in your body. 

jmswedlund
jmswedlund

Yeah, because pizza is bad because it's fatty. What about the carbs hiding under all that fat?